Monday, May 31, 2010

A Path to Nowhere?

Down at the end of my yard, tucked away in a shady corner near a gummy old pine tree, is a little path made from fist-sized river rocks. Shorter than a jump rope, it sneaks through a tangle of lily of the valley and violets, curving to end in a mess of pine needles under spindly branches.

Some people in my family say it goes nowhere.

Every year, I spend two or three hours digging up the rocks, removing the plants that have decided they’d like to grow there, and putting the path back together. By the next spring, it is hidden again. A lot of work, for a path that goes nowhere.

Except I think it does go somewhere. It’s a secret in the garden, like the wide branch up in the birch tree that makes a perfect chair. Or the tiny plant growing out of the weird hole in the big bumpy rock. Or the toad that hides under the hostas by the water faucet, waiting for a meal.

For me, that path is the possibility of something wonderful. The kind of possibility I’d like my readers to feel from my writing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

If I Had One Wish...

Today I’d wish for more time to spend on my writing. Yesterday I got so absorbed in it, I almost forgot to go to my day job!

What would you wish today?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'll Fix It Later

When you're writing your first draft, do you ever think, I’ll fix it later? I seem to be generating a lot of these with my current WIP. Here's a partial list:

1) Add in more character-specific details – At the beginning of my novel, my MC has a keen sense of smell, but I’ve been forgetting to mention that as I get involved writing down the story.

2) Build a foundation – When I come up with a great idea partway through the story, I need to go back and make sure it’s set up or at least supported by what happens at the beginning.

3) Make it consistent – Sometimes later ideas change a story situation or event (I’m flexible). I might drop or add a character. Change a name. I need to go back and fix places that will make my reader go, Huh?

4) Names of minor characters – I know it’s weird, but once in a while, when I refer to a minor character from an earlier part of the story, I can’t remember their name and don’t want to stop to check. (Maybe this means I need some kind of character chart?)

5) Enhance the setting – During my first draft, setting is one of those things that’s just there. Later, I’ll go back and help to bring it to life with carefully chosen details.

I’m sure there are lots more. How do I keep track of all the things I need to fix? Two ways. I write them right in the manuscript in bold, caps or some other font that makes them stand out from the rest of the story. Or I write about them in my story-specific journal, with a big heading: Fix This Later.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing is Not Always Writing

People who are not writers often think that writing means you have to be sitting at your desk, scratching out brilliant lines of prose. Not so. I was thinking today about all the valuable writing-related things that help in creating my novels:

1)  Staring off into space, wondering about what comes next. This can lead to making notes of possibilities, journalling about my story, or even working on an outline.

2)  Trying out activities that my characters do to make sure they actually work. (Okay, not all of them, but some. If my character is only a few cm tall, could she hold a raspberry? Or, could a character build walls using popsicle stick squares covered with paper? My kids love helping with these investigations!) Maybe this is why my latest WIP involves cooking.

3)  Checking out baby name books and sites to find the right names for my characters.

4)  Reading lots of fiction to find examples of how other authors use POV, structure their plots, develop their characters etc.

What non-writing activities help you with your writing?

Don't forget to enter my contest for a chance to win a free book!

Monday, May 17, 2010

How Flexible Are You About Your Writing?

Even though I like the momentum that builds from writing everyday (or trying to), I find that writing in small pieces makes for a disjointed novel. I try to forget about this problem during the first draft, but it’s a constant battle: Please, let me actually get some writing, any writing, done today vs. This section has to fit with the storyline.

I have to remember to be more flexible. Writing anything is good, not being strongly tied to where it should go is better. It reminds me of one of my favourite games, Bananagrams, where you connect words you make from letter tiles. If you’re flexible about moving around letters in your crossword to help use up tiles in your hand, you’re more successful. In writing a novel, it helps to remember you can move (or even cut) a section or scene if it works better for the story. Just try it, I say to myself. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Be flexible.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Made It to 50 Celebration and Contest!

I am now halfway through my 100 book challenge! Yay! To celebrate, I'm giving away a copy of Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor, my 50th read.

I still have 50 YA or MG books to go in my reading challenge, so for a chance to win the book, all you need to do is include a comment with the name of a MG or YA book you recommend.

The contest closes May 30th. Winner will be selected by a random draw.

The Dead and the Gone

#48. The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I’ve waited a long time to read this YA novel. When I finally got the chance, I read it straight through, barely stopping to engage in my “real life”. I found it just as compelling as Life As We Knew It, which told of different characters experiencing the same life-changing event. For me, The Dead and the Gone was more gruesome and horrifying in some respects, but equally absorbing. I love Pfeffer’s writing style – straightforward, with every scene moving the story along, and very few adjectives or adverbs. Details are carefully chosen and mostly conveyed through actions.

#49. The Real Real by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Though I don’t often like “average girl turns popular and gets the boy” stories, the reality TV setting made this one a little different. The writing was jumpy and hard to follow at times, but I liked the details and got hooked into the story.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Having Faith

“…faith was believing what you could not see, and pressing on until you could see it.”
K.L. Going, The Liberation of Gabriel King

This quote captures a lot of what I think about writing. You have to believe that the end result will be great, even though all you’ve got to go on are your ideas and, if you’re lucky, a shimmery vision of the story. And you have to keep going—sweating and crying and lying awake at night thinking about those words and how to put them together into something like that early glimpse. You have to believe that one day you’ll see a finished story.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quick Writing Link: Word Choice

Don't you hate it when you're reading and a character you're trying to connect with uses words she wouldn't say or think? Jennifer Hubbard has a great post on word choice up today. She suggests that along with keeping in mind the character's personality and goals, you need to think about your goals as a writer - an interesting angle.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters

One of my critique partners, Christina Farley, posted some great links that got me thinking about how I create my characters. I don't plan too much about them in advance. I jot down a few key characteristics, their family and friends, a name. I think about what they want, of course, since that's often the heart of the novel. But mostly, the rest of what makes my characters emerges as the story develops.

That's okay, for a first draft, which for me is all about getting a storyline that works. Now I'm thinking that the second draft really should be all about the characters.  I need to make sure to:

1. Bring out their unique or quirky qualities to make them memorable.
2. Make sure everything they say and do is consistent with their personalities (they are not necessarily the same as mine, which means I might need to consciously think about this instead of just letting it happen).
3. Include their emotional reactions.
4. Take a few risks, reaching beyond my own comfort zone.

If I don't connect with the main character when I'm reading, a book just doesn't capture my attention. Paying more attention to character is a different way for me to think about revising, but definitely important.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Quick Writing Link: The Ideal Middle Grade Reader

I loved this description of a middle grade reader from guest poster Suzanne Selfours over at Cynsations. It reminded me of why I love writing MG fiction. Like MG readers, I like to believe that everything (including mermaids, invisible creatures, books that talk) is possible in the world of stories. Occasionally, I do wonder if there is a monster lurking in the hallway late at night. And I'm wondering what my superpower is, since I'm sure I have one too.